Savages, Indians or Braves: Idaho tribe asks state government to ban all Indian mascots
Michael Lycklama, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Eastern Idaho’s Teton High School has retired its Redskin mascot, and one Idaho tribe is calling for the removal of all Native American high school mascots and nicknames in the state.
The Shoshone-Bannock tribe submitted a position paper to the Idaho State Board of Education asking the board, the Legislature and the governor to stop all public schools from using Native American mascots, a practice it referred to as “racial misappropriation.”
“The non-Indian, Euro-American rationale of public schools and communities that using mascots such as Savages, Redskins or Indians ‘honors’ Indian people is grossly inaccurate,” the document states. “The continued use of those names would only honor the non-Indian ideology created by dominant mainstream society, whose ancestors directly or indirectly killed, sold, removed or demoralized the original Indian residents.
“The people, the schools and institutions who developed these names Savages, Redskins, Braves (and) Indians are perpetuating racism and stereotyping. Further, the Shoshone and Bannock tribes have not been asked to be part of something that directly impacts our people so historically and so personally.”
The Shoshone-Bannock tribe submitted the three-page paper during the annual summit for the Idaho Indian Education Committee on June 13 and 14. The committee serves as an advisory board to the State Board of Education, which has the authority to enact policy.
Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the State Board, said he couldn’t comment on the paper as the full board has not seen it nor had any discussions on it. A spokeswoman for Gov. Brad Little did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The Idaho Statesman acquired the paper through a public records request.
The document lists eight Idaho high schools “who use offensive names and mascots,” including the Savages (Salmon, Salmon River), the Redskins (Teton), the Indians (Pocatello, Preston, Buhl, Shoshone) and the Braves (Boise).
It did not include the Warriors of Meridian and Kootenai, nor the Nezperce Indians. Shoshone-Bannock spokeswoman Randy’L Teton said the tribe worked from a directory of Idaho schools on the state activities association’s website and could have missed some.
Kootenai and Nezperce reside on Native American reservations in North Idaho, but both schools are more than 85 percent white, according to federal education data.
The Nez Perce tribe spoke out against the Nezperce Indians mascot in 2014.
“These types of school labels, both names and images, propagate harmful attitudes and perceptions to and about Indian people, leading to past, current and future misperceptions about tribes and of Indian people,” the Shoshone-Bannock paper states. “Every day the expression of racial misunderstandings, of lack of education of mainstream society of Shoshone and Bannock people and history, is seen on social media postings.
“It is absolutely harmful to retain these names (and) mascots, and to continue the misappropriation of American Indians.”
WORKING WITH SCHOOLS
Teton cautioned the tribe wrote the paper before working with the Teton School Board and the Driggs community on their Redskins mascot. After months of divisive debate, tearful testimony and meetings that stretched long into the night, she said the tribe wants to work with schools, not against them.
Boise High principal Robb Thompson confirmed he sought input from the Shoshone-Bannock tribe this summer on his school’s Braves mascot, and the two sides have held ongoing discussions.
“I reached out to them in June because, quite honestly, I feel we have the responsibility to do so,” Thompson said. “What I was hoping to accomplish by reaching out to them was just establishing a relationship and understanding their perspective of this whole issue and becoming educated myself.”
The tribe’s position paper also asked the State Board to require mandatory Native American history in its high schools, not just in elementary school. It offered its own tribal education and cultural staff to assist developing those classes and diversity training.
WHAT DO OTHER STATES DO?
The Shoshone-Bannock’s stance comes as more and more states grapple with the issue of Native American mascots.
Maine became the first state to ban the use of Indian mascots in public schools and colleges by law in May after the bill passed unanimously. Oregon schools must receive permission from one of the state’s federally recognized tribes to use a Native American mascot. And California ordered its schools to stop using Redskins in 2015 through the Racial Mascots Act after three attempts.
State legislatures in Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan and South Dakota have introduced but failed to pass bills banning Native American mascots. State education boards in Michigan, New York and Washington have encouraged their schools to retire Indian mascots, and so did South Dakota’s high school athletic association.
On the other end of the debate, Tennessee passed a law affirming that only state lawmakers have the power to ban mascots. And in 2013, Wisconsin’s Republican legislature toughened its standards to change mascots. It now needs a petition with enough signatures to equal 10 percent of the school’s student population before an agency controlled by the governor makes a final decision.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction previously made the decision.
IDAHO’S HISTORY WITH INDIAN MASCOTS
Debates over Native American mascots and symbols have raged throughout Idaho the past 20 years.
Salmon High abandoned its Indian head logo after the 1999-2000 school year in the face of a lawsuit but retained the Savages nickname. Salmon River High in Riggins followed the next year fearing a similar lawsuit.
Boise High has stopped using a physical Native American mascot, changed its Indian head logo, no longer displays a costume war bonnet in its entrance and painted over a mural of a Native American some found troubling. Still, two former mascots called on the school to ditch the Braves mascot in May in a guest editorial for the Idaho Statesman.
Leaders from the Nez Perce tribe asked Sacajawea Junior High (Braves) in Lewiston and Nezperce High (Indians) to retire their mascots in 2014. Both have held onto their mascots.
The Nez Perce also publicly supported Teton’s decision to abandon the Redskins nickname.
“People do it to honor us, they say. But really, it’s very misguided,” Kootenai Tribal Council member Gary Aikens Jr. said at the Idaho Council of Indian Affairs in 2014, the Lewiston Tribune reported. “They don’t recognize the pain it causes, the disrespect that’s shown. The pain is generations deep. We’re still feeling the effects of atrocities committed a hundred years ago. All of us are carrying generations of pain. We’re still walking with that.
“When we speak out on this, the struggle has been trivialized. People say, ‘Get over it, we’re just honoring you.’ But I don’t think they realize the effect it has when we see this type of thing. It’s not honoring us.”
The Shoshone-Bannock’s position paper states the tribe came to the State Board of Education to seek a solution at the state level.
“The tribes believe the Idaho state school system fails to consider the full impact of racist and inappropriate names, mascots and use of Native American images,” it closes. “However, it is the State Board of Education that sets educational policy from kindergarten through postsecondary, and in their efforts to create a more synchronous system, they have an opportunity to make a difference, to set an example and say no to bullying and racism at the state level.
“It is time they no longer remain silent on this issue.”
This article was originally published in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.